New Superstitionist reports
a new experiment that supposedly casts doubt on an earlier experiment on free will. The earlier experiment, by Benjamin Libet in 1983, showed that an 'action potential' appears in the brain many milliseconds before you're aware of making a decision. According to Libet this proves that you don't have free will because your decision was already made before you were conscious of it. The new experiment supposedly disproves this, in an indirect way that doesn't make sense to me.
In fact neither experiment proves anything about anything.
No matter what your brain is doing ... perceiving, deciding, dreaming ... your conscious awareness always runs well behind the real action. We don't pick up the delay in normal circumstances
because we are operating completely within the realm of awareness. Everything that happens is delayed by the same 1/3 second, thus we don't notice a lack of synchronization.
But you can catch the delay in certain unusual circumstances
when awareness doesn't entirely fill the mind. For instance,
when you're almost asleep a sudden noise will make your muscles jerk (startle reflex) and 1/3 second later you "hear" the noise consciously.
The fact that awareness takes more computation time than reflexes is unremarkable.
The fact that "scientists" don't understand this basic idea is remarkable.
= = = = =
Of course the whole question is moot anyway. All actual decisions are predetermined by a long chain of influences. Physical laws prohibit many decisions (e.g. I could 'decide' to be tall enough to touch the moon, but everything needed to implement that 'decision' is obviously absurd); the hardwired parts of our brain prohibit many others (e.g. I could 'decide' to be a rich and happy traveling salesman, but my temperament and experiences wouldn't allow any of the necessary steps in that 'decision'.)
Those 'decisions' are really more like 'wishes'. Looking only at the narrower range of decisions that can truly be made: the present situation combines with our learning and the current hormonal balance of the brain to tip each decision one way or the other. Even when I try to yank the decision out of my own tightly-bound neurons by flipping a coin or by using a Zener diode random number generator, the fall of the coin or the choice of the generator is still fully determined by a chain of previous and current conditions. Those conditions are infinitely beyond the range of any human observer to measure or calculate, so they might as well
be called random or free. But they are not
truly random or free.